In Exercise, Wooly on 29 June 2010 at 18:49

I know next to nothing about exercise.

Well, take that back; I know pretty well what it doesn’t do. Outside of that, I have the CDC, the overheated celebrity-doctor apparatus, and personal experience to rely upon, same as anybody else.

(Which, by the way – Dr. Oz? D’you know who else promotes weight loss with a heaping admixture of Abrahamic law? Yeah, that’d be PRO-ANA COMMUNITIES. Knock it off, sawbones.)

This past Wednesday I wrenched my knee up pretty good in the course of my regular exercise, which has me reflecting on my near-year’s observation of government-mandated running-in-place. Actually, as far as intervention trials go, I make for an okay case study; I was for years among the indifferent thin from whom a physical penance was never expected, thus never rendered. Walking gradually became my primary locomotion across my college’s diffuse urban campus, and between work and class it’s now about three miles a day in aggregate.

It then became important for me to bring my activity level in line with the federal minimum, mostly to be blameless in the eyes of the first lady. As capriciously as I gave up meat-eating (to just as capriciously resume it three years later) I bought a finger-nail’s length of quality 1970s-style shorts and had a go at running, thrice weekly, atop any incidental exercise.

And … I liked how it made me feel. Listen to my extremely scientific findings:

  • I liked having an inviolable engagement in the early evening.
  • I liked an apportioned time to be ridiculous and out of breath and sweaty, to earn a shower instead of simply banishing a collected day’s worth of inframince.
  • I liked the look of my legs better, but that’s probably because more routine exposure immunized me to their weirdness – they’re still two funky trunks conjoined at considerable knotholes, and no amount of “tone” is going to change that, but omigod dudes SHORTS.
  • I liked – I am ashamed to admit – cooking up alternate names for the practice of jogging to casually drop into conversation, because while
  • I liked the warm approbation that people seemed to radiate whenever I talked about it,
  • I didn’t like feeling guilty for reward-seeking and privileged behavior. Just as often I’d frame it as a bad habit.

(And while it’s not especially germane, I was pleased when running seemed to add the half-dozen pounds I lacked on my historical set point, consistent with anecdotal evidence. Depression took those back and then some, but it goes to show that the modest regulatory effects extend both ways.)

What I liked best, I guess, were the very minor physical empowerments, which I feel are universal and good. The little man’s frankly desperate gesture of solidarity at the far end of the intersection became an invigorating challenge. I practiced running, and hey, I got better at it. Does that give me a survival advantage? Well, I don’t know. Maybe if we were being chased by something, provided I hadn’t just been running, which – let’s say, on balance, no.

The value matrix is so complex that it’s impossible to distinguish actual health gains from projected ones. Is this better respiratory functioning, I wonder, or just a sigh of relief from what Jean Grimshaw called “the kind of bodily fear and unease [of] a somewhat inactive lifestyle”? Am I happier, or is that simply a correlation of having sufficient time and leisure to dedicate an hour to running and going nowhere? It goes like this: If, through my “lifestyle change”, I have earned a sure reprieve from what is popularly considered a death sentence  – well, it stands to reason that my immediate self-assessments might not come from a very objective place.

Physical exercise compresses the interval of self-improvement to an agreeable 21st century minimum, and I guess that troubles me. There’s a kind of seduction in getting appreciably better at something within months of undertaking it. Does that displace the long view? Hard to say. My material circumstances never greatly changed – no first flush of weight loss, no accolades, no dread of regain – so all I can account for is my time. To that end I can’t say I was meaningfully enriched, at least not along Roger Ebert’s “Greater Activity Edification Theorem“,  but then again I only ever partook of what might be called dumb, propulsive activities. Proponents of more holistic approaches suggest that the mind-body dichotomy tain’t necessarily so.

I’m going to resume once my leg gets better, even if my injury prefigures my eventual admission into the ranks of the newly old, whose early-onset, sports-related maladies are actually increasing healthcare spending. Because – and I repeat this for my sake as much as anyone’s – I like how it makes me feel, and I think it falls within the spectrum of permissibly unhealthy human behavior. A body might, for example, achieve the same chemical happiness from a thrice-weekly wedge of cake, and is probably just as well off in the long run – though of course the two are not mutually exclusive.

Oh, man. That sounds awesome. Interim exercise plan: cakesprints.


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